This time Marius moved with utmost care and memorised exactly where he’d come from. He no longer had any intention of dozing off or meeting Lisa. His plan was in fact now to explore the forest a little more deeply. Undisturbed.

But nothing came of it this time either.

Once again he was startled by a girl, but it wasn’t Lisa this time.

In fact she was nothing like Lisa. He found this new girl rather elfin in appearance, and what’s more, she was smiling at him. Although she had long, almost coal-black hair and a dark complexion, she looked somehow fair and pale. Was he imagining it or was she being friendly?

After they’d said hello, he asked her what she was doing in the forest.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Same as you, so it would seem. It’s so lovely here.”

Marius nodded. The forest was magnificently beautiful today.

Although paler and lighter than on his earlier visits.

Maybe the very fact that he’d found the forest gloomy before was why he’d lost his way the first time and then the next time just fallen asleep?

“Do you live round here?” asked Marius, who had now learnt that the girl’s name was Esme.

Esme nodded. “In the town near yours.”

“How do you know which town I live in?” wondered Marius.

Esme laughed. “They talk about you.”

“What do they say?” Marius asked.

“That you go into the forest when most people would be to chicken. And that you’re friends with that horrible girl.”

Marius swallowed hard. “What makes you think she’s horrible?”

They weren’t friends! Although part of him wished they were.

Esme made a gesture with her hand. “Everyone knows she is. The whole family’s a bit weird. Some people even believe that her grandma was a witch.”

“A witch?” said Marius in astonishment. “No-one’s been scared of witches since the Middle Ages.”

“People are still scared of them now. Quite a few people have vanished in the forest. And never been found. Know why?”

Marius shrugged. He wasn’t sure whether Esme was trying to scare him or warn him. Whichever it was, what she said had some effect. What if she was right? What if Lisa had an ulterior motive for venturing into the woods? What if she were trying to make people lose their way. Perhaps the reason why she was trying to keep Marius away from here was to stop him discovering some secret involving this place?

“In the olden days people believed that human organs cured disease. Lisa’s grandma believed it too. They say that she managed to get loads of people lost. On purpose. And then, as you know…”

“Can’t we talk about something else?” interrupted Marius. It seemed ridiculous to believe in witchcraft nowadays, although Esme’s words were spine-chilling.

Esme nodded. “Want me to show you the woods’ most beautiful lakeside spot?” she offered.

“Lake?” asked Marius. “Is there a lake here?” When he’d studied the map he hadn’t noticed any lake.

“Yeah, there’s a lake. Come on!”

Esme grabbed Marius by the hand and set off among the trees, dragging him behind her. Some time later they reached a clearing where, sure enough, there was a small lake.

“I usually go swimming here,” murmured Esme. “Come on! Let’s find out if the water’s warm yet.”

Marius tagged along to the water’s edge and dipped his fingers into the water. It was indeed warm. Warmer than he’d expected.

“Let’s go for a swim!” suggested Esme.

Marius shook his head. “I haven’t got my swimming shorts.”

“No need for any. Just go in in as you are,” Esme replied, pulling at his arm.

Marius was in two minds. The water really was lovely and warm, but something held him back.

Esme grabbed him by the wrist once more; her dark eyes looked at him invitingly. Only now did Marius notice how beautiful she was. Even more beautiful than Lisa. Quite uncannily beautiful.

Too beautiful to be real.

As Esme took a step into the water, Marius noticed the edge of her skirt getting wet.

“We can’t really be going swimming fully dressed, can we?” he queried.

“Come on, don’t be afraid,” whispered Esme. “Nothing will happen.” She tugged at him more forcefully.

What might happen to me, pondered Marius and the next instant noticed a large dog bounding towards them.

Esme had seen it too. She leapt out of the water, taking Marius by the hand again.

“Come on, run, it’ll hurt you!” she yelled breaking into a run.

They sprinted about a hundred metres and fortunately the dog didn’t follow.

“Dogs shouldn’t be let loose in the forest,” said Marius.

But Esme was apparently paying no attention to his remark.

“I have to go,” she said, to his surprise. “But we will go swimming one of these days, won’t we?”

Marius nodded.

Esme then disappeared so quickly that he did not even have the chance to ask how they would meet next time.

I should start keeping a diary, thought Marius on the way home. If he made a note of all the strange things that happened here in the forest then perhaps he might be able to make some sense of it all?

The translated excerpt is a courtesy of Estonian Children´s Literature Centre

tagged in Reeli Reinaus